Australia enjoys a rich legacy in the Summer Olympics. Few nations have matched Australian dominance in men's and women's swimming. Australian athletes have also excelled in a diverse selection of sports, ranging from field hockey to equestrian. The Australian Institute of Sport spends millions of dollars training athletes across the spectrum in order to field a competitive national team at each Olympics.
This profile looks at the nation of Australia and its storied Olympic past and present:
Population: 22.7 million
Currency: Australian dollar
Head Of State: Queen Elizabeth II
Head of Government: Prime Minister Julia Gillard
All-Time Medal Count: Australia ranks 11th among all nations with 432 medals. It has won 131 gold medals, 137 silver medals and 164 bronze medals. A total of 168 of those medals are in swimming.
Strongest Sports: Swimming, track and field, cycling, rowing, sailing, canoeing, diving, equestrian, and field hockey.
Brief Olympic History: Australia has competed in the Summer Olympics every four years since the modern games began with the 1896 Athens Olympics. Edwin Flack was the first Australian athlete to participate in the Olympics. Flack won two gold medals in track and field at the 1896 Athens Games -- one in the 800 meters and the other in the 1,500 meters.
Frederick Lane became the first swimmer to win a gold medal at the 1900 Paris Olympics. Lane finished atop the podium in the 200-meter freestyle and the 200-meter obstacle race. Sarah Durack became the nation's first woman to win a gold medal at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Durack won a swimming gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle. They were the first in a long line of elite Australian swimmers.
Australia hosted the Olympic games for the first time with the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Murray Rose and Betty Cuthbert made it memorable for the host nation by claiming three gold medals apiece. Rose won the 400-meter freestyle, 1,500-meter freestyle and 4x200-meter freestyle relay in men's swimming. Cuthbert won the 100 meters, 200 meters and 4x100 relay in track and field. Swimmer Dawn Fraiser also won the first of three straight gold medals in the 100-meter freestyle.
Australia hosted the Olympics a second time with the 2000 Sydney Olympics and several Australian athletes turned in a strong performance. Ian Thorpe was the top individual athlete. Thorpe won five medals in swimming. He claimed gold in the 400-meter freestyle and the 4x100 and 4x200 freestyle relays and won silver in the 200-meter freestyle and the 4x100 medley relay. Among the team sports, the women's field hockey team and women's water polo team both took home gold.
Top Olympic Medal Winners:
Ian Thorpe (swimming) 9 medals - 5 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze
Dawn Fraser (swimming) 8 medals - 4 gold, 4 silver
Leisel Jones (swimming) 8 medals - 3 gold, 4 silver, 1 bronze
Petria Thomas (swimming) 8 medals - 3 gold, 4 silver, 1 bronze
Susie O'Neill (swimming) 8 medals - 2 gold, 4 silver, 2 bronze
Grant Hackett (swimming) 7 medals - 3 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronze
Shirley Strickland (athletics) 7 medals - 3 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze
Murray Rose (swimming) 6 medals - 4 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze
Lisbeth Trickett (swimming) 6 medals - 3 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze
Michael Klim (swimming) 6 medals - 2 gold, 3 silver, 1 bronzeAthletes to Watch in London:
Stephanie Rice - Predicting that Rice will make waves in London is easy. At the 2008 Beijing Games, the Australian swimmer won three gold medals and set three world records in the 200 IM, 400 IM and 4x200 freestyle relay. Rice is set to defend her medals in 400 IM and the 200 IM.
James Magnussen - All of the attention will be on Michael Phelps, but Magnussen is sure to also earn a bit of Olympic glory in the pool. Magnussen is one of the world's best in short distance races. He is the world champion in the 100m freestyle and will be going for gold in that event and the 50m freestyle.
Sally Pearson - As the defending world champion in the 100m hurdles, Pearson is a favorite to win a gold medal in that event. Her speed and agility make her a natural on the hurdles. Pearson's biggest threats come from a pair of U.S. athletes -- defending Olympic champion Dawn Harper and Lolo Jones.
Drew Ginn - Making his fourth Olympic appearance, Ginn can become Australia's most successful rower with another gold medal. Ginn has won three gold medals at three Olympic Games. He won in Coxless four at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and in coxless pair at the 2004 Athens Games and 2008 Beijing Games.
Malcolm Page - Securing a spot in Australian Olympic history is driving Page in London. He won the men's 470 class sailing gold medal in Beijing. Now with new partner Matthew Belcher, Page aims to become the first male Australian rower to win back-to-back gold medals in the event.
Elise Rechichi - Change is in the air for Rechichi. She partnered with Tessa Parkinson to win a gold medal in the w men's 470 class sailing in Beijing. Now Rechichi will try to duplicate the feat with new partner Belinda Stowell. She is aiming to become the first female Australian rower to win back-to-back gold medals in sailing.
John Coon has covered multiple Olympic sports at all levels as a sports reporter based in Salt Lake City. He considers the Summer Olympics one of his favorite sporting events.